It was about 2012 when I decided to make a serious study of the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament and for about two years, I focused on this book alone.
3 Nephi 23:1 And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of .
2 For surely he spake as touching all things concerning my people which are of the house of Israel; it must needs be that he must speak also to the Gentiles.
3 And all things that he spake have been and be, even according to the words which he spake.
Those are the very words out of the mouth of our Savior, Jesus Christ when He visited the people in the land Bountiful. I no longer wanted to skip over the Isaiah chapters in Second Nephi and because of my intensive studies of Isaiah’s words, I no longer wade through these Isaiah chapters with weariness, but rather, I relish reading them today. There are four remarkable commentaries on Isaiah’s writings found in the Book of Mormon. They are given by Nephi, Jacob, Abinadi, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ when He visited the people at Bountiful.
(Background) In a nutshell
The Assyrians occupied the upper Mesopotamia. For centuries they killed and conquered nations from Egypt to Persia and built their mighty empire on their ruins. Once conquered, the enemies were brutally tortured in order to make an example of any who would rebel. Walls and stone carvings depicted images of people being skinned alive, burned to death, children being blinded before their parents and many more violent and unthinkable barbaric brutalities.
It is no wonder that Jonah fled rather than accept his divine assignment to preach repentance to them at Niniveh. But the terror of his stay inside the belly of a whale caused him to finally humble himself sufficiently to fulfill his mission. And to his amazement, they did repent. But this only lasted about forty years before they were spilling blood again.
During the height of its power, Assyria made a continuous assault on the northern kingdoms of Israel and in 721 BC, succeeded in its conquest, carrying off of to Assyria the last major segment of the Israelites. After Assyria’s fall, however, these people migrated northward and became known as the “lost tribes of Israel.”
The fall of this empire was prophecied by Isaiah, but so strong was this empire and huge and vast, was the capital of Niniveh, that people laughed and scoffed at him. Where once, Assyria was a small northern province of Babylon, it had become a super power. By the time that Lehi would have been born, Assyria would have ascended to the height of its power. But by the time Lehi had married and raising a family, the tide of history shifted. Babylon became increasingly agitated and an uprising was soon at hand.
The fact that hordes of barbarians from the north began descending to loot the mighty Assyrians enabled Egypt to break away. Then Media began to rebel. The Babylonians to the South mobilized, demanding independence. About a decade before Lehi left Jerusalem, the great battle for Ninevah was fought. All dissident factions stormed the city, breaching its might walls.
The Assyrians regrouped, setting up a temporary capital at Haran, where Abraham formerly lived and attempted to create a counter-offensive. It was at this time that Egypt’s ruler, Necho II realized that as much as he despised Assyrian rule, he hated the thought of Babylonian conquest more. He mobilized his armies up the highway along the Mediterranean coast of Palestine and found a surprise at the narrow pass near Megiddo. They found Josiah, king of Judah, commanding an army and blocking the way. Obviously the mountain kingdom of Judah did not want the Egyptians to succeed.
Necho had nothing against them because they were among Egypt’s best customers. But Necho was not about to let them stop him. He sent ambassadors to Josiah, saying, “What have I to do with thee, thou king of Judah? I come not against thee this day, but against the house wherewith I have war: for God commanded me to make hast: forebear thee from meddling with God, who is with me, that he destroy thee not.”–2 Chronicles 35:21
To make the long story short (trying to, anyway), Josiah refused and was killed in battle. This was about 609 BC and when Lehi was well on his way to achieving status as a prosperous citizen at Jerusalem. The fact that he lived down from the city in the land of his inheritance might have contributed to his safety while it is conceivable that Laban, with his “ten thousand” fought in the battle with Josiah.
The next few years war raged between Babylon and Assyria, supported by Egypt. Babylon had gained major traction when it’s king died and Nebuchadnezzar was crowned in his father’s place. In the process of mopping up and sweeping toward Egypt, Babylon swallowed up the tiny kingdom of Judah like a tiny crumb. He ordered his ministers to take some of the promising young Jews to be trained in the language, culture and governmental procedures of Babylon. One of the young men was Daniel and three other young Jewish men accompanied him. Eventually, through miraculous events, they proved themselves to be outstanding. Daniel ended up being the king’s top adviser and the others, administrators of Babylon.
What the Jews at Jerusalem did not know was that the Lord was setting up a series of circumstances, which would be most favorable to them. But the apostate king, Jehoiakim, despised the prophets. During the siege, he had to stop paying tribute to Egypt and begin paying Babylon, which he despised. Soon, though, he stopped paying tribute to Nebuchadnezzar. Before long, he was under attack and died. Nebuchadnezzar raided and looted the temple, then rounded up and carried away captive ten thousand people, including craftsmen and smiths. (See map below).
With this historical background aside, here are some verses to ponder:
Isaiah 1:3 The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s : but Israel doth not , my people doth not consider.
4 Ah nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, that are : they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto , they are gone away backward…
10 ¶ Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of ; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.
11 To what purpose is the multitude of your unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats…
13 Bring no more ; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and , the calling of , I cannot ; it is , even the .
The ox and the ass are arguably the least intelligent of domesticated animals and yet they are both described as knowing their owner or master. Isaiah is speaking to a nation of idolaters. These are His children, His “covenant people.” Yet they do not know Him. The ox is a clean/kosher animal, which could be likened to the Israelites. The ass is an unclean animal and could be likened to all the gentiles (not of the ethnic lineage of Abraham). Both dumb animals know their owners and masters. Yet the Lord’s covenant people do not know Jehovah. The Master’s own covenant people are considered with a covenant curse. To “know” the Lord is a covenant relationship, but to NOT know Him is a covenant curse. In this passage, the Lord is exasperated by the vain temple ceremonies, which were supposed to teach His people how to come to know Him. The ancient temple ceremonies were supposed to keep the people of Israel in remembrance of the Savior’s coming sacrifice. Both ancient and latter-day rituals are symbolic of something else, but as such, they become stumbling blocks to those who are asleep.
As a side note, there is no graven image that is not a product of one’s hands. Idolatry results from consumer demand. The Hebrew word Abad means both to work and worship. People worship the work of their hands. In this world, there is no economy without an exchange of products resulting from consumer demand. You can buy anything in this world with money. Mammon is the driving force behind the world’s economy. Babylon is the archetype of this system in the book of Isaiah. On the other hand, Zion does not require money. In Zion, all things are given and received freely. The Lord gave to us this earth and all things therein to be used freely and not by extortion or excess. Extortion and excess is exactly how the world operates. They take ownership of the things God has ordained for their use freely and charge a price for them. Excess is the result of one exalting oneself above another or others, thereby creating inequality in a society driven by an economy where money is the medium of exchange. In Zion, there are no rich because there are no poor because there is no money, there being no need for money. In Babylon, however, such behavior is the iniquity of a people. Idols, idolatry and commerce (economy) are all tools of Mammon.
Jehovah compares the ruling priests to Sodom and the laymen to Gomorrah. Sodom and Gomorrah set the precedent for a condemned people and so Isaiah uses it as an archetype to compare His covenant people to. They were abusers and ripe for destruction. And yet the Lord saved Lot and his family. Whenever the Lord is about to destroy a people, He tends to “gather” those few who have not forsaken Him, even by angels. Angels came to take Lot and his family out, even prodding him to leave before they destroyed the city. Likewise did the Lord bring out Lehi from Jerusalem and his family. Lot’s wife probably could not believe that her beautiful city could be destroyed. She was not attuned to the Spirit and couldn’t feel the warning to flee. Her heart was set upon the world in which she lived. So she turned around and was turned into a pillar of salt, good for nothing but to be trodden underfoot. Laman and Lemuel were the same as Lot’s wife. And so will all be whose hearts are set upon their riches–their idols.
And this is only the first half of chapter one. Chapter one is quite an indictment of the filthiness of Israel. She is a harlot whoring after her lusts, forsaking her bridegroom, who is quick to forgive and mighty to save. And though, as we read later in the chapter, though her sins be red like crimson, they shall become white as snow.
If we as disciples of Jesus Christ spend time in reflection and introspection, how do we compare to these ancient people of the Lord? We might be surprised to discover that we are just like they were.